During National Gardening Week (Monday 29th April – Sunday 5th May), we’re highlighting some of the ways you can get involved with gardening after brain injury.
Across the UK, Headway groups and branches run gardening projects that help to reduce depression, improve self-esteem and provide brain injury survivors with vital peer support and companionship. Read more in our special feature: Nature’s Way and get some gardening top tips in Blooming after brain injury.
We spoke with Simon Lacey, who runs Headway Cambridgeshire’s Growing Together gardening project:
Growing Together is a nine month gardening course funded by the Department of Health’s Innovation Fund.
Participants of the course include a mix of brain injury survivors and people who have experienced other difficulties, such as mental health issues.
In the course we look at the way gardens function and plants grow. We explore how natural communities work and how plants and animals create the conditions for health and recovery from injury and illness. We learn about the ecosystem and how nothing goes it alone.
I think this is a really important message for people in recovery. Having needs is not a sign of failure, it’s a condition of life.
We also focus on how many of the ‘problems’ in the garden can be solved by waiting and allowing nature to take its course. For example, if we don’t rush to kill the black fly on our beans, in time ladybirds will arrive to do the job for us. It shows that we don’t always need to solve problems.
This also has the added benefit in helping us to think about our own natural capacity for repair and recovery, and the importance of patience.
Alongside the physical and cognitive benefits of working in a green space, our project focuses on coming to terms with the emotional and psychological effects of injury (including dealing with loss and change) by reflecting on how nature deals with loss, repairs and recovers, and continues to grow and move forward.
On the course we work a lot on making new connections and building new relationships. This can have a real benefit in healing those feelings of disconnection.
Absolutely! By encouraging plants and animals to do the work for us, and by focusing on some really simple ways in which we can nurture life in the garden (e.g. no digging), we can enjoy a beautiful and productive garden without having to do very physical work.
We also support people to go out into other community gardens and start to make those spaces more accessible and inclusive for themselves and for others. A recent example was one of our groups who worked in a long-standing community garden in Peterborough. They raised the money and helped to build new paths, raised beds and a wheelchair accessible compost toilet.
Instead of being the people who needed support, they were the people who identified and solved the problems themselves.
Don’t hesitate! Find a place where you feel welcome and get growing! If you don’t feel welcome, call your local Headway and get them on the case. There is no therapy that compares to gardening and you have as much right to enjoy it as anyone else.
The theme of this years’ gardening week is ‘Edible Britain’ to highlight that everyone has space to grow something to eat.
You can do so much with just a few pots, either on a windowsill or by your front door. Make sure you put them in a place that you pass every day. That way, you are more likely to be able to care for them without having to put in a lot of effort.
But even better, find out where your nearest community garden is and go along. Don’t hold back - get together with others and start growing!
“I’ve been feeling really lucky to be a part of the group. Everyone is really supportive and caring, and the content being taught has been incredibly thought provoking. To spend a couple of hours a week in such an environment I’ve noticed has already had an effect on my self-awareness and self-esteem. I think if someone doesn’t have, or hasn’t experienced much, community or connection before and they experienced this, it could be life changing.” A Growing Together participant
“It is one of the most interesting and thought provoking things that I do in my week, and I am finding it immensely enjoyable. I really love the interaction with everybody in the group. We are a diverse bunch of people, who may not ordinarily have the opportunity to be together, but we have gelled organically into a great group. I am also learning much about gardening concepts and the environment at large which is very enlightening. In fact I would go so far as to say that it’s making me seriously think about changing the way I do things in my life - and thinking about the greater environment of which I am a part.” A Growing Together participant
“It has enabled me to understand better how I can help others in a volunteering capacity in a way that will also nurture me. It has given me the confidence to contribute to wider community and society in a positive way now that I have retired.” A Growing Together participant
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